When August hits Edinburgh, festival season is in the air, and we wanted to focus on the world of one kind: the book festival. What goes into putting a book festival together? Why host one? We wanted to give you the chance to ask any question you’ve ever had about the humble lit fest, and have got a series of Twitter chats so you can do just that! You can catch up on the full conversation at #SYPfest.
Dom Hastings, director of crime festival Bloody Scotland, wrapped up our trio of Twitter chats on book festivals. So we dive straight in: why is crime such a good genre to focus on? “Crime is a good genre because it’s so widely read,” explains Dom. “It’s the most popular genre amongst buyers and library users.”
“Here’s an exclusive for you,” Dom tells @MBendoris. “As of this morning we issued 9% more tickets than in 2014. Clearly not really an exclusive because I just tweeted about it.”
So how far in advance does it take to plan a festival? “We start straight away, if not before. I already have a list of authors we’re going to invite. I usually spend most of November meeting publishers in London and Scotland. Last dash events squeeze in May.”
Is it difficult to keep topics diverse with a genre-specific festival? “In the words of @DameDeniseMina: ‘Crime writing is a broad church’, so not really, loads to talk about. We’re lucky that there are so many great crime writers out there tackling such diverse topics.”
They’ve got modern writers, they’ve got events based on classics like looking at the poisons of Agatha Christie – how even is the split in interest? “Contemporary writing is normally much more popular, so you have to look at interesting angles for historic stuff.”
What distinguishes Scottish crime novels from other crime fiction? “There’s something about the dark Scottish humour that runs through a lot of Scottish crime novels.” Nordic Noir was the in thing a few years back – could Tartan Noir be just as big overseas? “Absolutely. It’s all in the marketing. We’re trying to showcase the best in the genre and get it out there to the world.”
The festival runs a writing masterclass every year, but how else do Bloody Scotland hope to support crime writers? “Loads of ways,” says Dom. “We’re running a youth masterclass, our showcase slots, pitch perfect event and creating an informal space where people can come and chat to writers and have a drink with them. Oh, and making the festival as open to everyone as possible, through things like this. And (last one) offering everyone a fee.
“A youth masterclass in association with @ScottishArtsCL is upcoming. Need to finalise the deets before we announce.”
Does he think it’s important for book festivals to engage in political discussion, for example their referendum event last year? “Great question! I think book fests are places where people come together to discuss issues, so yes, we absolutely need to engage with current issues. This year there’s a demo for the #refugeecrisis happening at @bloodyscotland.”
What do Bloody Scotland do to build their brand internationally? “I spent a lot of the year showcasing and shouting about Scottish crime writing with partners like @BCScotland. Now we’re looking at taking Scottish crime writers to the Caribbean (again), India, NZ, Canada and NYC.
“Last year we took two authors to @bocaslitfest in Trinidad to showcase Scottish writing and encourage new writing. This year we have a Trinidadian guest with us. I spent today showing Barbara Jenkins around Edinburgh. Other things have been exchanges where we showcase Scottish writers at international lit fests and then invite foreign writers back in return.
“Last one I’ll mention for now was a trip to talk to Spanish publishers about Scottish writers and possible translation funding from @CreativeScots. We then hope to showcase translated work through exchanges.”
Apt for #SYPfest, how much do Bloody Scotland utilise social media? “Loads. I’m rubbish at it so I have a great team who do it. I just tweet with emojis and then they disappear. Serious answer is that it’s a massive part of our marketing activity and a very important one.”
Several topics are touched on, from favourite events (“Last year we asked the sheriff of Stirling if we could put a play on in the actual working court. It’s not happened yet, but this year we’ve chartered a plane to Shetland with @AnnCleeves) to what event he’d recommend for the coming weekend (“Beg, borrow or steal tickets for the event with @ragnarjo & @RotwangsRobot, or the football, or the coo. I’d mostly recommend just coming up and taking a punt on someone. Loads to see and do).
For anyone interested in working in festivals in future, what would he say are the key skills and things to try? “Try everything. I’ve worked at outdoor events, film fests, music fests, art fests, politics events, conferences… All skills are good skills. Best thing to do is work hard and get your hands dirty. If you’re interested in Book Fests then working somewhere like front of house at @edbookfest helps.”
So, to close: what’s Dom’s favourite part about working with Bloody Scotland? “Festivals are about people with shared interests coming together to have fun. There’s a serious worthwhile side, but having fun is no small part of it.”